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James Hardiman Blog 2: Early season race-prep headaches

by James Hardiman 19 Feb 08:00 PST
The J105 Jingle on the hoist at Stellendam, Holland in September © Ocean Elements

If you're new to this blog or you need a quick recap; I'm documenting my path through a race season with SORC (Solo Offshore Racing Club) with the intention of giving readers an insight into what it's like to compete in an offshore solo race series as an amateur yacht racer whilst holding down a challenging day job, a family life and a couple of [other] slightly abnormal hurdles to contend with. I hope to show that solo offshore racing is more accessible than many realise. And that you don't need to be vastly experienced, or deep-pocketed to get started.

Readers of my first instalment will remember my two hurdles; the first, is that I'm presently recovering from serious shoulder surgery to my rotator cuff. And the second, that I have a new, but rather old boat in a serious state of disrepair...and the season is just two months away.

The new (but rather old) boat

Learning and setting up a new boat presents various issues to the racing sailor, which is why many of us choose one type or class. And stick to it. I sold my last [very good] Sunfast 3200 to buy a cheaper boat, hoping to save some cash for a new sailing project. More on this later! However, the old (2001) J105 I plumped for is not looking like the most cost-effective solution I was hoping for.

Said boat is 'good' for a 17 year old J105... or so I keep telling myself! I looked at a few hard-raced examples in the Solent and ended up doing a deal with a pushy broker in the Netherlands for 'Jingle', a freshwater lake-sailed boat with light competition use. So, I thought I'd be in for an easier ride. Sadly, this seems not to be the case.

Jingle was hoiked out of the drink in November and laid up ashore in Stellendam for some relatively light hull-work, which I was prepared for. This included resealing the hull-to-deck join, dealing with some soft bits around the shroud bases, scraping years of blistering antifoul off the bottom and finishing off with some minor engine work. I also budgeted for some new electronics and a dependable power supply, (batteries and charging), which is vital to have right as a solo sailor. First, you need accurate information and second, you need it to be visible from the helm. So things like a plotter in the cockpit plus the all-important AIS, radar enhancer and autopilot should never be scrimped on. Auto pilot failure early in a race will make it very tough to finish; and not being able to see all the marine traffic around you is a solo sailor's nightmare – especially when racing through busy shipping areas when you're very tired. Which for some reason - we do a lot of!

Why did I change my boat?!

A question I'm asking myself daily as emails come in from the yard in the Netherlands detailing more and more issues that need sorting. I'm starting to wish I had never embarked on a boat change because the 'planned-for-renovations' are actually the tip of the iceberg!

I'm relatively new to setting up old boats as I've always had the benefit of sailing new ones! But I'm starting to see why old boats are like many of the old ski chalets I develop, as part of my work with Alpine Elements. Like an old chalet, I'm discovering that boats can rot too. And as the project has started to progress, then the issues have started to expose themselves... the costs are mounting, and this (old) J105 will probably end up costing me more than the entire proceeds from my old (but quite new) Sunfast 3200. Oh dear... I'd better retract my earlier comment about deep pockets!

No mast, no engine, no steering...

At present, there's not much left on board as most of what was there has had to be replaced. It transpires that I need a new engine, gearbox, prop shaft and bearers, (even they've rusted through!). I need new sails so I can use hanks rather than a nasty furler, lots of new running rigging, new standing rigging, (rods), and I've asked for some strengthening in the form of spreader doublers and a plate to strengthen the vang-to-boom fitting. I've no experience of J105's but another, quite successful 105 owner, (Nick Martin ex Diablo J), recommended such mods. Nick's done some stormy single handed offshore stuff in his 105 – so in the absence of my own experience, I thought I'd listen to his advice.

I'm quite fastidious when it comes to boat prep, partly because you need to be when racing, (especially solo), and also because my line of work (with Ocean Elements) demands that we give our Beach club customers a high level of well-maintained dinghies to use in our RYA training centres. So I'll probably end up with one of the best J105's around; she'll be pretty much all-new when we're finished, the only original hull-fittings being the steering wheel and the keel!

A North Sea delivery trip to plan

A careful approach to boat prep is why I'm in this position. It's mostly from my own 'play it safe' mentality, driven partly because I'm time poor and Ocean Elements is a good sponsor. I'm sure many owners would have run with the boat as she was and put up with a few niggles, deep pockets or not. But nevertheless, it's still a little disconcerting to see my boat in bits with a yard in the Netherlands that speaks little English and my first race is just over two months away. Additionally, I have to plan a delivery trip across the North Sea in late March, which, as co-racer Jerry Freeman reminded me is a 'deadly trip'... Thanks Jerry!

Personal Training

So with the boat a work in progress, (and slightly out of my hands as I wait for the yard to do their thing), I'm focussing on what I can do to get prep'd for the season. And that's sorting out my shoulder and getting my level of fitness up again.

I'm not as experienced a racing sailor as many of the other, (older and wiser!), solo racers I race against, so I figure that if I get as fit as possible then my agility and stamina will win me places where I fall down on harder-won sailing experience. Experience and of course good navigation wins you races, but physical stamina also helps - especially when doing tough endurance races overnight, or over many nights.

Having a great physio helping me with my shoulder, (Lucy Tighe works for the Australian Olympic sailing team), has really helped me see the benefit of fitness for sailing. So at the moment Lucy has me running 10-15Km a week and doing some pedalling on static cycle-trainers as my shoulder won't allow much else. The other benefit of my exercise routines have stopped me going doolally with a general lack of activity which has cursed me since my operation last September.

Next instalment will be mid-March when hopefully works on the (new-old) Fluke IV will be nearing completion and I can shake her down on a kind of 'maiden voyage' across the North Sea, and to her new home in the Hamble.

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